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Strat pickup replacement - Staggered/Unstaggered Pickups?

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Postby timba33 » June 29th, 2006, 12:10 pm

Hi,

I have a '96 MIM Strat that I picked up cheap, and was thinking of replacing the pickups. It's in excellent shape, no fretwear, but the pickups sound muddy, unless it's just me or my amp. I have a VOX PAthfinder 15 R amp. It is the HSS model, with a Humbucker at the bridge. The POT's are 500k, I looked. Check out the picture, are these the original MIM pickups? They look kinda funky on the bottom with the extra magnets on the side of the poles.

I've been looking at the GFS pickups on Guitarfetish.com, and noticed there are some Strat pickups with the poles Staggered (poles are higher on the D,G,B string positions). I have some $ from ebay sales and may use it on a custom wired pickguard with either the Premium Alnico Staggers, Premium Alnico overwound staggers, or maybe the

The pickups on the basic pre-wired pickguards can't be good if the whole assembly is just $30-$38.

I like everything from classic rock to modern rock.

Also, they pair up the middle pickup that is reverse wound, and claim to get a humbucker noiseless sound with bridge/mid, neck/mid.

What's the sound difference between Staggered and Unstaggered pickups?

I kinda like the humbucker at the bridge, gives a nice heavier sound. What would I miss If I get just SSS pickups?Image
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Postby Doug_C » June 29th, 2006, 1:25 pm

timba33 wrote:The pickups on the basic pre-wired pickguards can't be good if the whole assembly is just $30-$38.
Au contraire, mon frere! GFS stuff is good. I think the reason the prewired pickguards seem so "cheap" is that it's a package deal. But you can always get just the pups you want, and wire 'em up with your existing pickguard. (Or some glamorous custom one. :wink: )

Also, they pair up the middle pickup that is reverse wound, and claim to get a humbucker noiseless sound with bridge/mid, neck/mid.
An RWRP middle singlecoil will give you a humbucking effect with one of the other two. Most manufacturers are doing that now. That and some good shielding of the guitar body will go a long way toward the "noiseless" sound.

What's the sound difference between Staggered and Unstaggered pickups?
I believe staggered pups are pretty much a "Jimi Hendrix thing," because he was a lefty playing a right-handed Strat with the string order reversed. (See http://www.seymourduncan.com/support/seymours_q_and_a_15.shtml#794.)

I kinda like the humbucker at the bridge, gives a nice heavier sound. What would I miss If I get just SSS pickups?
Probably "not much," except that if you set your switch for the bridge pup only, you'd be playing on a singlecoil rather than a humbucker. Sounds like kind of an obvious answer, but as you've noted, there are some noticeable differences in sound between the two types. You might be able to get the best of both worlds by getting the S-S-H version, and putting a coil-cut (or -split, or -tap, whichever term you prefer) switch on the humbucker.
Go here to see what Chris Kinman has to say about "Mixing Single coils with a Humbucker:" http://www.kinman.com/html/toneWorkshop/perfectGuitar.htm
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Postby greybeard » June 29th, 2006, 2:02 pm

As I understand it, the staggered pole pieces were to compensate for the varying response from the strings, particularly the G string - the wound G was quite quiet. When unwound G strings became fashionable, they could be quite looud, compared to the other strings, so the flat pole piece pickup was invented.
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Postby timba33 » June 29th, 2006, 2:53 pm

Thanks for the info. I have picked up tons of info from this site.

I'm assuming those are the original stock pickups from 1996. If you look at the pic, you can see those magnets on each side of the poles. Are these the cheapo ceramic magnets that everyone says are low quality, low output?

Also, what about the POT's. Should I use 500k?
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Postby duffmaster » June 29th, 2006, 5:12 pm

timba33 wrote:Also, what about the POT's. Should I use 500k?


The norm is 500K for the Volume, 250K for the tone.
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Postby Doug_C » June 29th, 2006, 7:16 pm

timba33 wrote:Also, what about the POT's. Should I use 500k?
If you're going to stick with singlecoils, 250K pots will probably give the best sound. If there's a humbucker in the equation, it'd probably be "happiest" with its own 500 volume pot. You could also hit a compromise with a parallel fixed resistor on that pot, maybe dropping it to 300K. A fixed resistor used in that way might "mess up the taper" of the pot, though.

duffmaster wrote:The norm is 500K for the Volume, 250K for the tone.
Well, no, the "norm" is that manufacturers stick with all 250K or all 500K for a given guitar, and the "standard" is pretty much 250K for singlecoils, 500K for humbuckers. See the top FAQ on this page: http://guitarelectronics.zoovy.com/category/wiringresources.1basicwiringfaqs

For a really hot humbucker, some would suggest a 1 or even 2 Meg pot. Even on the two pages where you can purchase one or the other, they vary on what the resistance of the given humbucker should be, but check it out anyway: http://www.torresengineering.com/how1and2megp.html. I bought a "PowerBucker" harness from Torres, with the 1 Meg bridge volume for my Memphis LP copy. Since that pot will be looking at a GFS "Crunchy PAF" that measures around 16.8K ohms, I figured I'd try it.
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Postby fenderbender714 » August 8th, 2006, 8:26 am

hi doug,
the 500k pots should be replaced with 250k pots, or you will get alot of icepick sounds you might not like. those are definitely stock MIM strat pickups. I have a 1993 MIM strat and replaced mine with some from guitarfetish.com, myself. DO NOT BUY THE PREWIRED PICKGUARD for $38 FROM GUITARFETISH, OR YOU WILL BE GETTING poop SOUNDING, CERAMIC MAGNET PICKUPS AND BE RIGHT BACK WHERE YOU STARTED.

i like their ALNICO V pickups, BUT QUALITY CONTROL is a real issue with gfs pickups, no matter how much praise they receive on forums. i have a staggered overwound set, gfs I28's.
the bridge pickup's staggered magnets were poking out the back, and not the front. THE MAGNETS STAGGERS WERE AT DIFFERENT HEIGHTS ON ALL THREE PICKUPS. i pushed them through, and put them on, wondering if i shorted out some windings. luckily, they were alright and i would have simply returned them if they weren't.

now, back to quality control issues... these "overwound" high output pickups aren't any higher output than my stock strat pickups were. this is an issue of quality control that makes gfs pickups a good economic choice for replacements, but keeps them out of the leagues of fralin, or kinman pickups, which they aren't nearly as good as.

i emailed jay at guitarfetish recently, and asked about the i28's and tried to find out from him if the lack of higher output was due to the 43 gauge wire that is supposed to be in these pickups. he was friendly, but rather defensive. just stating over and over that the pickups are way higher output than stock strat pickups. since jay obviously doesn't look the pickups over before they go out the door (my bridge pickup would never have made it out of kinman's shop), i don't know how he can make this claim. i was hoping he would offer to take the pickups back, but he didn't even offer.

BOTTOM LINE, YOU MAY AS WELL BUY THE CHEAPEST SET OF ALNICO V PICKUPS THAT GUITARFETISH OFFERS, BECAUSE QUALITY CONTROL IS SUCH THAT YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET, NO MATTER WHAT YOU ORDER. i might buy a set from guitarfetish again, but i will check them out before installing and i would be more inclined to send them back and insist that they send me a set they have checked out, themselves.

I think the wild praise these pickups receive is somewhat undeserved, but they are better than mim and squier strat pickups and are cheaper than the high end pickups fender offers including lace. Lace and high end fender pickups being much better than GFS, but too expensive to slap in a low end strat. i would give them a 7 out of 10.
Last edited by fenderbender714 on August 8th, 2006, 6:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby greybeard » August 8th, 2006, 9:02 am

Welcome to GN, fenderbender.
I think that your assessment of GFS is pretty subjective and based on a very small sample - those that you own. There seem to be many other owners, who have a totally diiferent experience with GFS and are extremely happy with what they have received.

You say that the output, from the GFS pickups, is no different to that of your stock pickups. Can you tell us what they measure, so that we can judge for ourselves? You do have measurements, don't you?

I also think that your comparison with Fralin and Kinman is unwarranted - they don't pretend to be in that league or price class. Do you own Fralins or Kinmans, by the way?

Reading your post a second time through, I get the distinct impression that you are desperate to somehow get back at GFS. I can't understand how you can make such generalisations, based on a sample of one.

I'm no lawyer, but I suspect that some of your comments are very close to crossing the line into illegality.
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Postby timba33 » August 8th, 2006, 10:19 am

Yikes !! you resurected my old thread. I still haven't replaced my MIM pickups. Been playing my Acoustic.
I think I will go with a custom wired pickguard and go back to the classic Strat SSS config. This should save me the trouble of wiring it.

I had the same impression with fenderbender regarding the prewired pickguards. For $38, you are getting what you pay for.

Getting back to the Staggered/unstaggered config, does it matter any more with the newer unwound strings? Question being, what will I lose with unstaggered vs. staggered pickups?

Thanks.

-Tim
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Postby greybeard » August 8th, 2006, 10:53 am

I've never heard a side-by-side comparison, so I can't tell you any more, sorry.
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Postby fenderbender714 » August 8th, 2006, 2:04 pm

i like the way my GFS pickups sound. but, when they turn up at your house with the staggers on the backside of your pickup and the staggers not matching pickup for pickup and string for string and way lower output than you were expecting, it tells you about the quality control in the warehouse and factory.
i would buy another pair, but i wouldn't bother paying for the "premium" line of pickups they have, again. i play with a wound g, so it matters to me about the staggers.
No, i don't have the equipment to measure output. but it occurs to me that pickups that are rated at 9.2 neck, 9.4 mid and 9.8 bridge should be noticably louder than stock mim strat pickups at 6.0, 6.2 and 6.5k and i cannot tell any difference in output, period. it is not quicker to push my little 1966 gibson ga-5t skylark into overdrive than it was before i changed out pickups, either.
it isn't like i hadn't played the guitar in weeks. i intentionally played the guitar right before it went under the soldering iron to make this comparison. they sounded better than the ceramic pickups, but weren't noticably louder.
after this, i changed the pots and dropped in a sprague orange drop cap, which improved the tone, tremendously but didn't give me any noticable volume increase, although the volume tapers much better.
overall, they are way overrated compared to the raves they have received and i am very disappointed in the performance of a guitar i went out of my way to set up specifically for use with a small tube amp.
if i do buy GFS pickups again, it won't be the "premium overwounds". comparisons to fralin, or kinman pickups are simply ridiculous. these are not high end pickups in that, or any other sense. and yes, jay specifically states that these pickups were meant to "...keep up with the big boys" and they really don't, but are great for a peavey predator, or mim strat.
I think Korea turns out some good electronics, and they are underrated. but, these pickups are not premium anything, just good, everyday, alnico staggered pickups. and yes, i own a set of kinman woodstocks, with "aged" magnets that i put in my '79-80 strat (neck stamp reads nov 18, '79 so it probably is an '80).
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Postby fenderbender714 » August 8th, 2006, 3:10 pm

the stagger of the magnets give a pronounced mid, which i like. i have never tried them with an unwound g, so i am not sure how that would sound. GFS are good pickups, but not great. just avoid the overwound premiums and overwound humbuckers, which many report to be muddy sounding. i don't think saying the premium overwounds sound good, but lack quality control from pickup to pickup and that their overwound humbuckers are muddy sounding crosses into "illegality".
they are generally better than squier alnicos, not to mention ceramics, but are definitely not a better pickup than stock american fenders.
if you have a strat copy these make more sense than buying kinmans and paying more for your pickups than your entire guitar. but, quality control is a problem with pickups from guitarfetish.com.
i wouldn't put a set of GFS pickups in an american strat, because it wouldn't be an upgrade in the sense that lace, duncans, or better yet, kinmans or fralins would be. try selling your guitar and tell them you replaced it with GFS pickups.
it will effect the price in a negative way, since it isn't all original, or high end boutique. just think of GFS as working class upgrades for import guitars like squiers, mim fenders, peavey predators, epiphone les pauls and sg's, or any other off brand name guitar you might find for $75 and you probably can't go wrong.
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Postby slejhamer » August 8th, 2006, 3:44 pm

I put one of the 5.25k GFS staggered alnico strat pups (the basic $17 version that they sell as a single) in the neck of my '51. This is not the same as the one that comes in the prewired pickguard, but it's the same as the ones they sell in their $45 sets (http://store.guitarfetish.com/stvialstpise.html)

Now, keep in mind that I'm running it through a 500k pot so it's quite bright (I get good use of the tone pot I added, plus an outboard EQ), but I think it's a huge improvement over the stock Squier pup.

Fenderbender is correct that there's a pronounced mid. This gives it a liveliness that was missing with the stock. The pup also has excellent clarity from string to string. Bass is very well defined, not muddy in the least. It's exactly what I wanted.

Previously I had a 6k GFS Lil Killer in the neck - this is their rail-type humbucking strat pickup. I did not care for it in this guitar, and in my opinion it needs a high gain amp to open up. Perhaps this raises a question about GFS consistency, as others have used Lil Killers in their '51s and love them, even with low gain settings. But that's off topic ... ;)

All in all, I think GFS pickups are modestly-priced improvements over low-end stock pups, and I really like my GFS staggered alnico pup. :)
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Postby vanzant38 » August 8th, 2006, 9:16 pm

I ordered an HSS prewired pickguard from GF on ebay. Turns out they were out of stock. Jay emailed me and told me that he would refund my money or I could wait for the next shipment to come in. That was about 3 1/2 weeks ago, he said 3 or 4 weeks so it won't be long before I find out how good they are. These pickguards are not loaded with GFS pickups so I still won't know the quality of their pups, but I may buy some later.
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Postby The Dali » August 9th, 2006, 4:30 am

I have a set of GFS overwound (the "blowout" set at $18 for the three) in my Squier-turned-fender project and they sing. I was very impressed at the sound they produced.

The pickups in your MIM are definitely stock based on your picture. If it were up to me I'd keep a humbucker. My recommendation would be to sell your MIM pickup set for $30. Then get the GFS overwound set at $18, take the bridge and sell on eBay for $8, and pickup a higher quality humbucker. You could get a Super Distortion for $40 or a Duncan JB or '59 (or even pearly gates for proper pole spacing)for $50. Re-wire the guard for coil splitting at 2 and 4. I think you'll be very happy with that upgrade, and with my limited math skills I think you'd only be out $20 - $30.

Another option that I would highly recommend at the bridge position would be an original Bill Lawrence L-500 or L-510. They can be found on eBay (or direct from Bill) for about $40. They have blade poles so you don't have to worry about string spacing.
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